Disclaimer: I don't own Leverage. I'm only borrowing it for a bit.
Warnings: Spoilers up to The Mile High Job (to be on the safe side). May be slight OOC.
Pairing: Eliot/Parker friendship, or pre-Eliot/Parker depending on your viewpoint.
Author's Note: This story came out of nowhere. Well, it came out of me wanting to write something happy for a change. Please let me know what your thoughts are.
"Where are you going?" He stops, half turning to look at her. She's lying upside down on the sofa. Her blonde hair is in a pool beneath her head, her shoes leaving scuff marks on the wall.
"Nate's gonna kill you," he replies. Her eyes narrow at him. "He spent a fortune on this place and you're makin' it all dirty." He looks pointedly at her tennis shoes. She grins and slides the sole against the wall.
"Where are you going?" she repeats. He continues to stare at her and she sighs before rolling off the sofa. She stretches and he focuses on her scrunched up face, not the skin that's exposed from lifted arms. "I'm bored and everyone's gone."
"Why don't you go too?"
She looks lost, standing in the middle of the office in a shirt with too-long sleeves. Her blonde hair falls into her face and she blows to make it move. He forces himself to turn toward the elevator. "Eliot!" she whines.
"Don't you have someplace to rob Darlin'?" he asks. "Some building to jump off of?"
"Course not," she snaps. She rolls her eyes and hurries over as the elevator doors slide open. "Don't be silly Eliot; there isn't a museum opening for months."
"Right." He wonders how he ended up with her, why she couldn't have attached herself to Hardison or Sophie, even Nate. He ducks his head, smiling. He would pay to see her badgering Nate. "Well then, go home, go shopping, go case out a bank."
"What're you going to do?"
He inhales deeply, reminds himself that it's Parker and this is normal for her. Well, normal was a bit of an overstatement. "Why do you want to know?" he finally asks. She tilts her head and tucks her hair behind her ears.
"I thought we could do something. You know, since I'm bored."
He takes another (deeper) breath. "Right. Don't you have someone else to ask?" The doors open and he starts walking. He can sense her right there, right next to him, without having to look. And it isn't just because of the jasmine shampoo. "I mean, we just work together, don't you have other people that can get rid of your boredom?"
She stops just inside the parking garage. He lets out a stream of curses in his head but turns to look at her slowly. Parker has her head ducked down, her hands in her jacket pockets. She takes a couple of deep breaths before she lifts her head and glares at him.
"I'll see you when Nate calls, yeah?"
He doesn't know what makes him do it; honestly it was better when she was leaving. But he can't stop himself. Before he can fully realize what he's doing he's already reacted, already retraced his steps and is standing next to her. She looks at him evenly and he swallows.
"Look, it's not that I don't want you to come with me Darlin'. It's just…I know you won't like it." An eyebrow lifts as her arms cross.
"I'm up for anything." He studies her for a moment, silently. "Well?"
"Anything?" She nods firmly. "All right then." He grins at her. "Let's see how that works out, okay?" And just like that he's leading her to his Jeep and tossing his jacket into the back. She eyes the vehicle and he looks at her. "What?"
"Nothing…it's not like Nate's." He snorts and climbs in, unlocking her door from the inside. "I thought all guys liked small flashy sports cars. Most of the ones I hit up did anyway."
"Not practical for much outside running from the police." He grinned at her. "And I don't usually run from much." She rolled her eyes as she crossed her arms again. The car smelled of dust and something vaguely moldy but familiar. She frowned, trying to place the scent as Eliot pulled out into traffic.
"Toss your phone in the glove compartment with mine." She gave him a puzzled look. "Just do it." She rolled her eyes, opening the compartment and placing her phone next to his. "Good, we don't need them where we're going."
"Hey, where are we going anyway?" She looked over at him in time to see him grin as he slid on his sunglasses.
"Horses," she squeaked.
"You said anythin' Darlin'."
Anything, yes, she agreed silently. Anything that involved theft, robbery, or scams. But what had she honestly been expecting? This was Eliot. If he isn't busting open people's heads he's slicing and dicing veggies…or apparently saddling the most massive horse in the stable.
"This is Lightning," he told her. "He's gentle as they come." The horse made a grunting sound as Eliot swung the saddle over the blanket on the horse's back. Parker took a step back, eyeing the horse carefully. She almost jumped when a grey head poked out of the wall to her right. "That's Freckles," he added, glancing at the grey. "She can be a bit touchy; you might want to move out of reach."
He didn't need to tell her twice. She slid down the wall until she was in the middle of it. Lightning eyed her and his neck stretched out to sniff her. Eliot tightened the strap that went under him and the horse's nostrils flared.
"I think I'll wait in the Jeep."
"No." He grabbed her arm before she could slide past. "Come on, you were in a stall with a horse and you didn't die. This is nothing different, a whole lot safer anyway."
"I don't like horses."
"Sure you do," he replied easily. She glared and he smiled at her. "Don't worry, I'll be right there. You can fit through air vents, bypass lasers, and rappel off buildings but you can't ride a horse?" Her glare intensified when she saw the laughter in his eyes. "Come on," he added.
With a cluck he led both Parker and Lightning from the stable and into the yard. No one was around but she saw some horses grazing out behind the barn. They looked calm…peaceful. She inhaled the scent of dust and hay and tried to make her expression neutral. She couldn't stand being laughed at.
"So all I have to do is stand at the fence and watch you ride?" she asked hopefully. Eliot was opening one of the gates but he stopped to give her a look. She swallowed.
"Nice try. You wanted to come, you do as I say." She crossed her arms but slipped through the gate when his eyes narrowed. If there was one thing she'd learned from the jobs they pulled (mainly the one with the airplane) it was that Eliot was not nice when he was angry. "You want to be in front or back?" he asked.
"Uh…on the saddle." He nodded and let go of the reins, turning to her. "What are you doing?" she demanded. The horse was loose and they were locked in the field with it. Was he more insane than she was? He had his hands cupped and was looking at her strangely. "It's loose!"
He chuckled and she glowered, unaware of why that was so funny. "Parker, he's drop-rein trained. You let go of the reins and he stays where he is. Come on, I'll give you a boost." He tilted his head, beckoning her over. "Put your left foot here and I'll raise you into the saddle, okay?"
"No," she muttered. But she complied, swinging her right leg over. The horse shook his head and she clung to the handle at the front of the saddle.
"Don't cling to the horn like that," he chided. He was positioning her right foot in the stirrup, adjusting the length. "It's not a lifeline." She didn't care, it was solid and it wasn't horse. "Lightning won't move until he's told to." He came back to the left side and looked up at her. "I'm going to use the left stirrup to pull myself up, okay?"
She nodded. So far so good; the horse hadn't made any indication that it was ready to bolt. "Okay, let go of the horn, I need to hold onto it when I mount." She loosened her grip and he sighed, rolling his eyes before he mounted behind her. "Pick up the reins Parker."
"It'll move," she murmured.
"Parker, this is ridiculous. Lightning won't move until you make him. Pick up the reins." She did so and he could sense the resentment in her every move. "Good, now, can you put your left foot in the stirrup?" She nodded as she slid her foot in. "Okay, then let's go. We'll walk first, okay Darlin'?"
"I don't have a choice, do I?" she snapped. He ducked his head slightly, grinning into her hair. Her back was rigid, her shoulders stiff. He rolled his eyes, reaching around her to hold the reins. "If I die I hope Nate cuts your pay." He snickered as he nudged Lightning into a walk.
"It's not too awful, is it?" he questioned.
She shook her head and he wished he could see her face at the moment. She was silent as they made their way across the tall grass of the paddock, around the lone tree, and back toward the gate and the stable. All the while Lightning plodded on, his ears swiveling this way and that. He let out a breath, feeling the stress from the past week seeping out of his body. This was why he loved horses so much.
He could feel her beginning to relax as well. She was beginning to fall into the rhythm, swaying with the gait instead of against it. The wind had picked up by their fourth time around and her hair was tickling his nose. All he could smell was jasmine and hay. He liked the combination.
"You ready to try a jog?" he asked softly.
"A jog?" she repeated uncertainly.
"It's just a little faster." She nodded and he nudged Lightning again.
"Oomph," she grumbled. "It's like we're driving through potholes in Texas again." He laughed and she smiled, leaning back. She could feel his chest against her back, his hands over hers on the reins. "How do you not hurt after?"
"You get used to it," he replied after a moment. "And it's only the jog that's really bad. Cantering's like rocking. Galloping…galloping's like flyin'," he murmured.
"I want to gallop."
He looked up in surprise, shaking his head. "You want to what?"
"Gallop; I want to gallop." She turned her head so that she was looking at him over her shoulder. "I want to feel like I'm flying."
He felt the smile tugging at his mouth and tried to repress it. "I thought you were scared of horses."
"I was," she agreed. She smiled at him, that slow smile that reminded him of the cat who just ate the canary. "But it's like jumping off a building. You're scared at first, well, I've been told you're scared at first," another smile, "but once you do it, then there's nothing else like it. I like jumping off of buildings."
"And I want to fly." She shifts a little. "Come on Cowboy," she teases. "Make me fly; my butt's getting sore from jogging." He laughed and shook his head.
"Okay Darlin', we'll fly. Hold on tight with your legs and if you feel like you're gonna fall, tell me. I'll stop."
The next thing she knows is that they are flying. The wind is whipping at her face and she wishes she had put her hair in a ponytail because she's sure it's all in Eliot's face now (but it'd be the same even if it was up). Eliot's leaning forward, making her lean forward as well – just like the jockeys she saw in Kentucky doing. She wants to scream, or hold her arms out. But the wind steals her voice before her mouth is even open and Eliot's arms are tight around her, making sure she won't slip off.
They're turning for the second circuit, but it's too sharp and suddenly the pressure behind her isn't there anymore. She hears a thud and turns her head to see Eliot rolling on the grass. His head pokes up and he yells something at her but she's all the way at the other end now and she can't hear him.
He's on his feet though when they head back. She's laughing as she pulls on the reins (that is how you stop them, isn't it?) and he's yelling something that sounds like "yo!" When they slow and the wind dies in her ears she realizes it's "whoa." His hair is messed up and there's some grass sticking in it on the left side. She laughs harder, bending over the saddle and pressing her forehead into the dark mane in front of her.
"Parker, Parker, are you alright?" he demands. She was shaking and making weird, muffled noises. He was ready to shake her, to demand that she answer him. She lifts her head though and sees that he's holding Lightning's bridle, staring up at her strangely as he rubs the horse's neck. "Parker, answer me."
"You have grass in your hair," she points out. He narrows his eyes at her and she reaches over, pulling it out. "It was like flying Eliot. Exactly like flying."
He shook his head and shifted his weight off his right leg, staring up at her still. "You're insane." He's smiling though and she smiles back happily. "Come on, let's get Lightning rubbed down and fed."
"Are you embarrassed that you fell?" she asked as he helped her dismount. She hurried ahead to open the gate and watched as he limped through with Lightning.
"No, it happens all the time," he replied. "I'm just sore."
"You fell," she practically sings. "I didn't. I stayed on and I flew." He shook his head, leading Lightning back to the aisle across from the tack room. Parker perches on a trunk watching him work. "What are you doing?"
"Un-tacking," he replies. She's staring at him curiously. "This is the bridle," he explains. "I'm exchanging it for a halter. Halters don't have bits. Now I'm undoing the girth; that goes under the horse's chest."
"Why do you put a blanket under the saddle?"
"It keeps the saddle from rubbing the withers, that's the shoulder area, raw. It's more comfortable for the horse." He made a muffled oomph-ing noise as he pulled the saddle and blanket of, carrying them into the tack room. She waited, listening to him moving around inside the small room and the flies buzzing in the stalls. One of Lightning's ears twitched. "Ready to hose him?"
"Hose?" She looks at Eliot like he's grown a second head. He clips on the lead line and guides Lightning toward the wash rack. "Wait, you're serious?"
"Horses need baths too Parker." He chuckles and hooks Lightning into the crossties. "You galloped, you can hose."
"Do horses like baths?"
"Mostly." He unwound the hose and tested the water pressure and temperature. "It doesn't matter though, owning a horse requires proper care."
"Wait, you own him?" She looked startled and he shook his head as he got to work. She was leaning against the low fence, staring at him.
"'Course I do. What'd you think that I came out here and borrowed him when I wanted to ride?"
"Well…I just…Why?" she questioned. "They cost money you know and I thought with your sort of job…who watches him when you're uh…"
"Off bashing in heads?" She nodded and he shrugged. "I know the guy that runs this place, pay him some extra and he gives Lightning good treatment."
They were silent, the hose whooshing water and Lightning stamping and snorting alternatively. Eliot was rubbing something into his mane and tail and Parker turned to survey the horses in the fields and the white barn. The sun was beginning to set now, silhouetting them against the violets and oranges of the sky. When she turned back the hose was off and Eliot was using a plastic oval-thing to scrape the water off the horse.
"It's nice you know, coming out here to unwind," he said finally. "It just seems to take away the stress, and there are some trails out west I can use too," he added. "Nate has his sports car, Hardison has his computer stuff, Sophie has her clothes or jewelry, and you have your money…"
"And you have all of this," Parker replied quietly. He looked up at her and she offered him a small smile. "I don't think horses are so scary anymore." She wandered over, tentatively stroking Lightning's nose. His brown eyes looked at her and he gave a soft nicker. Her smile grew.
"You did good," he said once they were back in the Jeep. They had put Lightning away and Parker had even ventured forth to feed him pieces of broken carrot that Eliot had handed her. She looked at him and he smiled at her. "You're a natural at riding."
"Thanks." He nodded, eyes fixed on the road. "I mean…" she paused and he glanced at her quickly. "Thanks for tonight. I'm happy you made me ride."
"Anytime Darlin'." He slowed down for the stoplight.
"Think we can do it again?"
He looked at her. Her face was illuminated by the red glow of the light across the street and she was untangling her hair with her fingers. He could see some straw in it near the back but didn't comment. "Sure thing, whenever you're bored."
She smiled, turned to say something, but there was a sudden piercing ring from inside his glove compartment. She opened it quickly, pulling out the phone and flipping it open, pressing speaker phone at the same time. "Hello?"
"Parker?" Nate asked. "I thought I'd called Eliot's phone." She stared at the phone in her hand, noticing it for the first time. Inwardly she cursed looking between the phone in her hand and the one blinking in the glove compartment. "No matter, look we've got a new client. I've been trying to get a hold of you all evening."
"A new client?" Eliot cut in. Parker shot him a glare but he ignored her, gunning it as the light turned green.
There was a pause on the phone but then Nate continued on, like he hadn't heard or didn't care. "Yes. I called a meeting tonight."
Eliot reached over, grabbing the phone from her. "Alright, we'll be there soon." He flipped the phone shut before Nate could reply, making a U-turn and heading back to the office. "Why are you giving me that look?"
"Like you care what he thinks? Like I care what he thinks?" Eliot demanded, looking at her. "Anyway, you know offices, they love good gossip." She made a frustrated sound, falling back against her seat. "If it really bothers you, you can tell them I traumatized you with horses."
"And I gave you the limp?" she asked eagerly. He glared. "Fine, but I bet I could."